Damon Salvatore was lounging in midair, nominally supported by one branch of a . . . who knew the names of trees anyway? Who gave a damn? It was tall, it allowed him to peep into Caroline Forbes's third-story bedroom, and it made a comfy backrest. He lay back in the convenient tree fork, hands clasped together behind his head, one neatly booted leg dangling over thirty feet of empty space. He was comfortable as a cat, eyes half-closed as he watched.
He was waiting for the magic moment of 4:44 A.M. to arrive, when Caroline would perform her bizarre ritual. He'd already seen it twice and he was enthralled.
Then he got a mosquito bite.
Which was ridiculous because mosquitoes didn't prey on vampires. Their blood wasn't nutritious like human blood. But it certainly felt like a tiny mosquito bite on the back of his neck.
He swiveled to see behind him, feeling the balmy summer night all around him—and saw nothing.
The needles of some conifer. Nothing flying about.Nothing crawling on them.
All right then. It must have been a conifer needle. But it certainly did hurt. And the pain got worse with time, not better.
A suicidal bee? Damon felt the back of his neck carefully. No venom sack, no stinger. Just a tiny squishy lump that hurt.
A moment later his attention was called back to the window.
He wasn't sure exactly what was going on but he could feel the sudden buzzing of Power around the sleeping Caroline, like a high-tension wire. Several days ago, it had drawn him to this place, but once he'd arrived he couldn't seem to find the source.
The clock ticked 4:40 and beeped an alarm. Caroline woke and swatted it across the room.
Lucky girl, Damon thought, with wicked appreciation. If I were a rogue human instead of a vampire, then your virtue—presuming you've any left—might be in danger. Fortunately for you, I had to give up all that sort of thing nearly half a millennium ago.
Damon flashed a smile at nothing in particular, held it for a twentieth of a second, and then turned it off, his black eyes going cold. He looked back into the open window.
Yes . . . he'd always felt that his idiot younger brother Stefan didn't appreciate Caroline Forbes enough. There was no doubt that the girl was worth looking at: long, golden-brown limbs, a shapely body, and bronze-colored hair that fell around her face in waves. And then there was her mind. Naturally skewed, vengeful, spiteful. Delicious. For instance, if he wasn't mistaken, she was working with little voodoo dolls on her desk in there.
Damon liked to see the creative arts at work.
The alien Power still buzzed, and still he couldn't get a fix on it. Was it inside—in the girl? Surely not.
Caroline was hastily grabbing for what looked like a handful of silken green cobwebs. She stripped her T-shirt offand—almost too fast for the vampire eye to see—had herself dressed in lingerie that made her look like a jungle princess. She stared intently at her own reflection in a stand-alone full-length mirror.
Now, what can you be waiting for, little girl? Damon wondered.
Well—he might as well keep a low profile. There was a dark flutter, one ebony feather fell to the ground, and then there was nothing but an exceptionally large crow sitting in the tree.
Damon watched intently from one bright bird-eye as Caroline moved forward suddenly as if she'd gotten an electric jolt, lips parted, her gaze on what seemed to be her own reflection.
Then she smiled at it in greeting.
Damon could pinpoint the source of Power now. It was inside the mirror. Not in the same dimension as the mirror, certainly, but contained inside it.
Caroline was behaving—oddly. She tossed back her long bronze hair so that it fell in magnificent disarray down her back; she wet her lips and smiled as if at a lover. When she spoke, Damon could hear her quite clearly.
"Thank you. But you're late today."
There was still no one but her in the bedroom, and Damon could hear no answer. But the lips of the Caroline in the mirror were not moving in synch with the real girl's lips.
Bravo! he thought, always willing to appreciate a new trick on humans. Well done, whoever you are!
Lip-reading the mirror girl's words, he caught something about sorry. And lovely.
Damon cocked his head.
Caroline's reflection was saying, ". . . you don't have to . . . after today."
The real Caroline answered huskily. "But what if I can't fool them?"
And the reflection: ". . . have help. Don't worry, rest easy . . ."
"Okay. And nobody will get, like, fatally hurt, right? I mean, we're not talking about death—for humans."
The reflection: "Why should we . . . ?"
Damon smiled inwardly. How many times had he heard exchanges like that before? As a spider himself, he knew: First you got your fly into the parlor; then you reassured her; and before she knew it, you could have anything from her, until you didn't need her any longer.
And then—his black eyes glittered—it was time for a new fly.
Now Caroline's hands were writhing in her lap. "Just as long as you really—you know. What you promised. You really mean it about loving me?"
". . . trust me. I'll take care of you—and your enemies, too. I've already begun . . ."
Suddenly Caroline stretched, and it was a stretch that boys at Robert E. Lee High School would have paid to watch. "That's what I want to see," she said. "I'm just so sick of hearing about Elena this, Stefan that . . . and now it's going to start all over."
Caroline broke off abruptly, as if someone had hung up on her on the phone and she'd only just realized it. For a moment her eyes narrowed and her lips thinned. Then, slowly, she relaxed. Her eyes remained on the mirror, and one hand lifted until it was resting lightly on her stomach. She stared at it and slowly her features seemed to soften, to melt into an expression of apprehension and anxiety.
Excerpted from The Vampire Diaries: The Return: Nightfall by L. J. Smith Copyright © 2009 by L. J. Smith. Excerpted by permission.
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